Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



Bridgeville High School, Part Two
July 6, 2017



The Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s “Second Tuesday” workshop for June continued the review of the early years of Bridgeville High School, covering the period between 1917 and 1925.

The facilitator began the program by reviewing where we left off at the end of the first workshop. At that point the high school was housed on the third floor of Washington School. The student body consisted of about thirty students in three grades, taught by Principal T. S. McAnlis, Joseph Ferree, and Romaine Russell.

In 1917 a decision was made to offer a fourth year of high school; consequently there was no graduating class that year. A newspaper clipping from that year reports that the BHS basketball team, in its second season, had been defeated by Morganza Training School, 37 to 15. One wonders if BHS had its own home floor in those days, and if so where it was located. Lawrence Rankin played center for the team.

The Dramatic Club performed a play, “A Kentucky Belle” that year. Included in the cast were Marian Freed, Walter Jones, Clark Carlisle, and C. P. Mayer. Jr.

During the previous workshop the facilitator had mentioned that one of the members of the Class of 1914, Ralph Picard, had been killed in “the Flannery Explosion”. Since that meeting we were able to locate a newspaper clipping that reported that incident in great detail.

On April 2, 1918, a large oil tank exploded in the Flannery Bolt Company’s machine shop, igniting a fire that ultimately killed six persons, including eighteen year old Ralph Picard and seriously injured six others. Picard was working with his father, Michael, when the explosion occurred and was severely burned. His father extinguished the flames, carried his son outside, and returned to rescue several other persons. Unfortunately Ralph died in Mercy Hospital the next day.

The BHS Class of 1918 held Commencement exercises in “Russell’s hall” on May 24; the featured speaker was Dr. Reed Teitrick, a minor official in the State Department of Education. Russell’s hall was the auditorium in Squire Frank Russell’s building on Station Street, that was also the venue for Nickelodeon films. Included in the Class of 1918 was Walter Jones, who married Clara Weise, a member of the Class of 1916.

The high school faculty changed that summer. Professor W. M Edwards became Principal and was assisted by Joseph Ferree, Miss Nina Morrison, and Miss Ella Snodgrass. Sixteen other teachers were assigned to the eight elementary grades.

There were seven graduates in the Class of 1919, including Orpha McGarvey who went on to a long, productive career as a teacher in South Fayette. By 1919 the graduating class had grown to thirteen students, including Gladys and Lester Allen, Walter Patton, and Elnora Weise. The facilitator showed a photograph of the class, proudly displaying a BHS pennant.

By 1921 BHS had fielded a girls’ basketball team. A newspaper clipping reporting their loss to the Canonsburg Juniors, 8 to 7, was shown. The Class of 1921 had only four members. One of them, Burke Jones, was a fine soccer player who went on to play for the U. S. Olympic soccer team in 1924, the only BHS graduate to be an Olympian. Another, Helen Bowman, had a long career as teacher and Principal in the Bridgeville Elementary School.

In the Fall of 1921 BHS fielded its first football team, which won three of nine games. The Class of 1922 was social, as well as athletic. On April 21, 1922 they hosted their “Annual Hop” in the American Legion Pavilion, with Nosskoff’s first orchestra providing the music. What a shame we have no record of their playlist!

The class of 1922 was the biggest to date, with eighteen members. Included were C. P. Mayer, Jr., Walter McMillen, Paul Rankin, Harry Saperstein, and Karl Weise – a roll call of prominent Bridgeville citizens two decades later.

The gridders struggled the next football season, with only one win (Morris Township) and four losses. Perhaps the problem was manpower, as the Class of 1923 graduated only eight students.

The summer of 1923 produced another faculty shakeup. John C. Bedillon was selected as Supervising Principal, with Eugene W. Davis serving as High School Principal. Other High School teachers were D. P. F. Lowry (Science), Frank E. Weidenham (Foreign Languages and Coach), Walter Sterrett (History), Lucile Martin (English), and Olive Martin (Mathematics).

The elementary school teachers this year included many who would still be active fifteen years later when the oldest of the workshop members were included in their classes – Helen Bowman, Mary Danley, Mary Jones, Margaret Cronin, and Grace Conger.

This year there were seven hundred students in the Elementary School and one hundred eighty more in the high school. The basement was being outfitted with seats to form temporary classrooms for the overflow. The general sentiment was that a new building was needed. Another initiative was the establishment of seventh and eighth grades as Junior High, to make the transition to ninth grade easier.

The football team got off to a good start, “walloping” Cecil 12 to 0. Wins over Canonsburg and Bethel Vocational gave them a three and six record. The clipping for the Cecil game singled out Chamberdon, Shane, Abraham, and Simpson as particularly effective players. The soccer team was more successful, completing their second straight undefeated season and being named the champions of Allegheny County.

The School Board was reorganized on December 15, 1923, with Dr. S. C. McGarvey as President and D. M. Bennett as Vice President. They promptly announced plans to consider acquiring property and building a High School. By January 31, 1924, the decision to finance this venture with $135,000 worth of bonds had been made.

Bridgeville High School had begun to excel in non-athletic pursuits as well. The High School Debating team participated in a national competition at the Carnegie Institute Lecture Hall. Ruth Bowman was one of eighteen Allegheny County orators competing with speeches on the topic “The Constitution of the United States”. Georgianna Taylor won second prize in a W. C. T. U. essay contest; her subject was “The Evils of Tobacco”.

Commencement for the twenty two students in the Class of 1924 was held at the Bethany Presbyterian Church on May 2, 1924. Ruth Bowman and Amelia Morgan presented the orations. Also included in the class were Campbell David, Clarence McMillen, and Oscar Saperstein.

The Dramatic Club was active into the summer. On June 14, 1924, they presented a play based on Booth Tarkington’s novel “Seventeen” at the Bethany Presbyterian Church. The budding Thespians included Mike Abraham, Ralph Weise, John Capozzoli, Kenneth McMillen, and Oscar Saperstein.

Five young ladies from the Class of 1924 went off to college in the Fall – Amelia Morgan (Beaver College), Margaret Koch (Sweet Briar College), Anna Patterson (Indiana Normal School), Patricia Callaghan (Seton Hill College), and Ruth Bowman (Muskingum College).

Fall brought BHS’ first successful football season, with losses to MeKees Rocks and Trinity the only blotches on a seven and two record under the tutelage of Coach Agnew. A 16 to 0 win over Carnegie caused so much excitement that one hundred students staged an impromptu snake dance down Washington Avenue, “upsetting a fruit stand and causing general excitement”.

The Junior Prom was held on January 2, 1925, in the American Legion Hall. Billie Hollin’s Blue Ridge Orchestra provided was on the bandstand.

The Class of 1925 had twenty five graduates, including Mike Abraham, John Capozzoli, George Chappell, Harold Hickman, Cecelia Lutz, Margaret MacKown, and Robert Petrick. It also included Aldo “Buff” Donelli who achieved fame in later years as an outstanding soccer player and football coach. He is the only man ever to coach a Division One college team (Duquesne) and an NFL team (the Steelers) concurrently, in 1941.

The second BHS history workshop came to a close with the discussion of the Class of 1925. The next workshop will be at the History Center at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. The Class of 1926 was the first one to publish a Yearbook; consequently it provides an excellent opportunity for us to examine life in the new high school building in great detail. That will probably be the extent of the third workshop.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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